SQUATTING IN ABJECT POVERTY ON GOLDMINES
I love Africa. Believe me, I do. But when I attempt envisaging how she’d look if she were human, the only vision that comes to mind is of a person reduced almost to the state of a beggar, squatting in very deplorable conditions on brown earth under which is located potential gold mines. This is the only way I can think of this continent so dear to my heart, because this is what we, her inhabitants, have reduced her to.
The majority of Africans on the continent are squatters. According to the dictionary, a ‘Squatter’ is
a. a person or thing that squats.
b. a person who settles on land or occupies property without title, right or payment of rent.
The dictionary’s definition is best suited to us, because not only are we squatting on our resources, we have gone a step farther and are acting as though the land on which we live isn’t ours. It’s as though most of us are afraid to take steps to develop in our own land, perhaps because we have the mentality it doesn’t really belong to us, and the owner, whoever he or she may be, will one day come without warning and eject us right when we are in the middle of doing something profitable with what we have illegally acquired. And so we watch and we wait. We stare into space, oblivious to the paralyzing situation into which our squatting has plunged us while others come in and exploit our (natural) resources. Foreigners dig deep into the dirt all around us and walk off with our treasures. And even when our attention is drawn to the fact that we are sitting on gold mines, we continue squatting some more. It’s as though we were hypnotized.
Unwilling to move or act to empower ourselves, we convince ourselves the responsibility for our wellbeing is someone else’s (another nation, a foreign body, the elected government).We wait for someone else (the government, non-governmental organizations, international organizations, philanthropists), to do something that will be of benefit to us as a people and help improve our lives. But nothing of substance really happens. And so we wait some more. “Perhaps the developments they have planned for our lives are not fully ‘developed’ “, we think to ourselves. “It will take a while for them to be implemented, but at least they are thinking of it”. Having contented ourselves thus, we fold our arms and wait some more. And while we repeat the process of watching and waiting, our lives ebb by as our neighbors on the other continents, develop themselves and move from third to first world nations.
Of other nations we say: ‘They enslaved and robbed us of our resources. They owe it to us (to help us develop). While I do not wish to oppugn the issue of retribution here, because I do not want to go into what’s owed and what’s not, I’d like to opine I don’t think anything was stolen we still don’t have, that we can’t generate or regenerate if we look within ourselves and on our continent. Whatever was taken was taken because whoever took, observed that we had it in abundance, and did not quite know what to do with it. If we had it before, what stops us from getting it again? I will make so bold as to say that today we have even more of everything than we did during the colonial era. We have exceptional people with big hearts, and we still keep discovering natural resources. And still we squat. What is the cause of our inertia?
We have to understand that humans are intrinsically selfish, that the feeling of ‘community’ we had before colonialism does not exist in such large doses outside of our continent. That no one would therefore be deeply moved to leave their continents and come to ours to implement projects that would help us develop to the levels they have attained. The most they can do is help us once in a while. Even then, we should bear in mind they sometimes stand to gain immensely from ‘aiding’ us. If we want to get anywhere, we will have to do all the work ourselves.
I am still young in years, but one of the major lessons I have learnt (and that I’m convinced I’ll ever learn) is that everything we’ll ever need is right where we have been placed. I learnt this in a place I least expected to, when I decided to quit relaxing my hair and ‘go natural’. Determined to go all out in my quest to be ‘natural’ where my hair was concerned, I purposed to use only natural products in my hair. This, of course meant getting products almost straight from their sources, with as little processing as possible before use. I was surprised to realize everything a person of color needed to maintain their hair in its natural state could be found on this particular continent, literally on a tree somewhere. We had no need to import ANYTHING in order to make our hair, and by implication, our appearance, beautiful. If we wanted, we could, but whatever we imported would be supplementary, simply things we wanted to add to enrich whatever we already had, and certainly not things we couldn’t do without. There was no need for the use of any chemical whatsoever. Empowered by this realization, I began exploring and researching natural products, not only for the hair, but also for the skin and face. And I was amazed when, in less than a month, I noticed a marked change in my skin and face. The natural products did, in less than a month, what years of chemicals could not. This not only strengthened my resolve to stick to natural products as best I could, it also made me aware of the fact everything we need to better our lives is right where we are. It has not to do only with beauty. Economically, socially, you name it. Everything is right here! We would never die of starvation if we had not the means to import because everything we need for our survival can be found on our side of the fence. Of course, for variety’s sake, we could decide to import a few things, and there is nothing wrong with wishing to explore other people’s continents. But when we do go out from here, be it to study or work, we should never forget from whence we came, and we must endeavor to come back and give of ourselves to the land that nurtured us. We should not forget that all we learnt overseas, we learnt so we could teach others. Each one must endeavor to teach one.
We underestimate ourselves, really.
I have never seen a people endowed with so much consent to creep slowly, even backwards, when everything has been placed within their reach to enable them soar. I keep wondering just how disappointed God really is in the continent. I do not think any other continent was blessed with as many natural resources as ours. And what do we do with these? We do not adequately train ourselves so we can efficiently and effectively look after those things which have been entrusted to us. Like the prodigal son, we squander the ‘property’, giving them away for things we do not really need, and others we could really produce ourselves if we weren’t so lazy or unresourceful. And when we are done conducting ourselves in this manner, we resort to squatting in abject squalor. Who told us it was okay to squat?
I’ve never seen a people so rich stay so ignorant and misinformed about their true worth. We have the brains, the brawns, the resources. Yet our lives do not get any better. We rely on our governments as though no progress would be made, or anything achieved, without their intervention. And they promote their own agenda while we sit around and wait to gather the crumbs that fall from their tables. And so things worsen by the day as we squat in abject poverty on the goldmines on which we find ourselves.
But there’s hope for us yet. I do not believe, that in the grand scheme of things, certain continents were destined to become beggars. There is never a situation into which one is thrust from which one cannot pull oneself out with time and/ or diligent work. And I sincerely wish everybody who easily accepts and wholeheartedly immerses themselves into the ‘begging from others’ occupation would understand this. Hope is never lost so long as there is life. What others have they got through hard work, expertise, well laid-down structures. And we can achieve same. We need to set a standard for ourselves, then encourage and help each one of us to follow them. We need to put in our all, look within ourselves, reach deep, employ ourselves and our resources diligently and profitably, and be fully committed to the cause of progress. Not the kind of ‘progress’ our politicians and other greedy entities speak of while they busy themselves with dipping their long, thieving fingers into our coffers and plundering the state of its resources. Progress everyone is fully committed to, which will ensure we see positive results even as early as in the short to medium term. We can orchestrate our own peripeteia.
That there are so many problems here is testament to the fact there’s a lot of money to be made on the continent. For is money not what you get for solving people’s problems? And yet most of our youth, brainwashed by the educational system churning out robots lusting after white-collar jobs, refuse to think outside the box and create jobs, or find solutions to problems. Salaried workers who have reached pensionable age also, for reasons best known to them, refuse to go on retirement. So the workplaces are choked with old people who should be in adult diapers, and not much productive work gets done because the offices are filled with old and tired brains. And all the while our fresh graduates trudge in the hot sun daily with cartons of envelopes containing CVs under their arms, running to drop them everywhere they hear of job vacancies like piranhas drawn to a location by a drop of blood. Certainly, there is a place for old age and its supposed accompanying wisdom. Our aged can be consulted whenever the need arises to offer their expertise; they do not need to come to the workplace every day. Our workplaces need fresh brains who will apply the techniques acquired through their studies and employ modern technology to keep us at par with other nations.
Which wise man said, ‘Whatever is in your power to do is also in your power NOT to do?’ It is in our power to turn around the destiny of this continent. There is so much we can do to help, so much more within us we can offer. We still have so much untapped potential. As Dr. Yaw Perbi says in his book, Youth Power, ‘the richest place on earth is the cemetery’, because in most of the graves there lie minds with great ideas not fully tapped, talents not fully utilized, books unwritten, inventions that might never be made known. If every one of us determined to give of themselves, to empty themselves of all the talents they were endowed with so that at their deaths, there’d be in them no latent talent undeveloped/ unutilized, our continent would be the better for it.
There exists, truly, no limitations except those we place on ourselves. In the words of an anonymous writer, ‘greatness begins within you, so what’s your excuse again?’